The general property tax is an essentially American institution, but not an institution of which we are inclined to boast. It has been condemned, as defective in principle and as impossible of administration, as long as American economists have been writing in the field of taxation. It has always proved troublesome to government officials. It has been the occasion of widespread taxpayers' strikes in recent years. The tax has never been used by the federal government, except for rare emergencies; and it has been abandoned as the major source of revenue by most state governments during the past decade. Local governments have been increasingly handicapped in their use of this tax by growing exemptions and narrowing rate limits. Yet the general property tax, or some modification of it, remains by far the largest source of tax revenue in the country today. There is good reason for the persistence of this form of taxation, and a real estate tax, at least, not only avoids the worst evils of the general property tax but has an important place in a sound tax system in this country today.
In view of these facts, the Tax Policy League decided that its 1939 symposium should be devoted to the consideration of the property tax and the many problems it has created. The program committee consisted of H. C. Loeffler, John A. Zangerle, and myself as chairman; with Harold S. Buttenheim and Mabel L. Walker as ex officio members.